A bitter lawsuit between a disabled Tokay High School graduate, the city and its school district has finally come to an end.
Jeremy Hixson, 20, who sued the city of Lodi and the Lodi Unified School District for not supplying reasonable arrangements during his 2009 graduation ceremony at the Grape Bowl, agreed to a $45,000 settlement on Monday. The payment will be paid in equal portions by the city and school district.
Hixson had complained that the Grape Bowl, which was built during the Great Depression, was not easily accessible for someone in his condition and did not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Hixson suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta, a condition that makes his bones brittle. He has experienced more than 30 fractures and must use a wheelchair for mobility.
“It’s clear now that everything is finished that this case is not about money,” said Hixson’s attorney, Russell Humphrey. “If it were about money, he could’ve stretched out the process another year and tried for a much higher settlement.”
If an ADA case goes to trial and a judge sides with the plaintiff, Humphrey said, the defendant is required to not only pay the damages, but for the winning side’s legal fees as well.
“This could’ve ended up costing the city and district several hundred thousand dollars,” Humphrey said.
City Attorney Steven Schwabauer declined to comment on Humphrey’s assessment that the city was saved money by the settlement.
The city was working toward improving the Grape Bowl prior to Hixson’s graduation, Schwabauer said.
“We had awarded a contract for the installation of ADA-accessible ramps and paths for travel about two months before Tokay’s graduation,” he said.
The dispute began when Hixson sent a letter to the school district and Lodi City Council in April 2009 requesting they help find a way to enable him to use his wheelchair on the Grape Bowl’s field during the ceremony. The high school was not helping him address the situation adequately, he said in the letter.
A solution came when Hixson was driven by a golf cart to his seat and used a rubber mat to access the podium to receive his diploma during the Tokay graduation.
While Hixson agreed to the district’s plan for him, Humphrey said his client had little choice. If Hixson did not accept the terms of the proposal, the graduation ceremony would’ve been called off, he said.
“High school graduation is the biggest day in an 18-year-old’s life,” he said. “He didn’t have much of a choice and agreed to the accommodations because it would’ve hurt other students if he didn’t. It was a position no high school senior should have to be put in.”
As part of his settlement, Hixson entered a confidentiality agreement and cannot speak on the case.
He had originally filed claims against the city and school district late in 2009. Both claims were rejected. The case was filed in federal court on May 7, 2010.
Since Hixson’s lawsuit, Lodi has spent more than $2 million in ADA upgrades on the Grape Bowl. Humphrey said the city deserves credit for addressing the situation, but he believes it was Hixson who spurred the action.
“The Grape Bowl wouldn’t be where it is today without him,” Humphrey said.
Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at email@example.com.